The ASPCA offers some great advice for keeping your dog or cat safe from winter hazards, and I’ve added a few suggestions of my own to the list.
Ten Cold Weather Tips for Pet Owners
- Keep your cat indoors. Kitties allowed to wander unsupervised outdoors are at much greater risk than house cats, no matter the time of year. But a cat left outside in cold weather can literally freeze to death, or become permanently lost or stolen while looking for shelter from the cold. Even if your kitty lives indoors, a cat collar with an ID tag is an excellent investment.
You keep your cat inside, but your neighbors may not, or there could be strays or feral cats in the area. Kitties left out in cold temperatures will sometimes tuck themselves up under the hoods of cars, or in the wheel wells. Starting or moving the vehicle can hurt or even kill the animal. During the winter months, it’s a good idea to bang loudly on your car hood before starting the engine as a warning to a cat that might be in or around your vehicle.
- Keep your dog on his leash when you’re outside with him, and make sure his ID tag is current. More dogs go missing in the winter than any other time of the year. It’s very easy for pups to lose their scent and get lost when snow or ice is on the ground, and especially during snowstorms.
Snow accumulation can make it impossible for your dog to know if he’s in his front yard or standing out on a street or highway. Light-colored dogs with snow on their fur can quickly blend into the background, making them nearly impossible to spot.
- Thoroughly wipe off your dog’s feet, legs and underside after she’s been out in snowy or icy conditions. It’s possible she picked up salt crystals, antifreeze or some other toxic chemical on her paws, which she could later ingest by licking the area.
Be especially careful not to leave antifreeze leaks or spills where your pet can sample them. Antifreeze is lethal to dogs and cats. Also check your dog’s paw pads for any signs of injury or bleeding from walking on frozen or snow-packed surfaces.
- Don’t shave or clip your dog’s coat too short during the winter months. A longer coat will keep him warmer. If your dog has short hair, a doggy sweater might be in order, especially if he’s a small breed, an older fellow, has arthritis or other joint problems, or if he’s prone to shivering.
- Consider paper training a puppy if you get her during cold weather. Puppies don’t handle frigid temps as well as older dogs do. If you add a puppy to the family during the winter months, you may find housebreaking her more of a challenge than you expected. If so, you can paper train her instead, then retrain her to potty outdoors when the weather warms up.
- If you and your dog participate in lots of outdoor winter activities, make sure his species-appropriate diet has sufficient calories and protein to meet his energy requirements. This may mean increasing his meal portions during the winter months.
- If, on the other hand, you and your pet tend to hibernate during cold weather, it’s important not to let your dog lose muscle tone and physical conditioning. You’d be amazed at the number of canine knee, soft tissue, cervical disc and neck injuries I see in my veterinary practice each spring.
These problems occur most often in out-of-shape dogs that go from zero to 60 on the first warm day of late winter or early spring. There are many creative ways to keep your pet active during cold weather.
- Don’t leave your pet outside in the car. Just as your vehicle can become an incinerator during hot weather, it can become a freezer, holding in the cold air, during the winter. While not as common as pets expiring in hot cars in the summer, too many precious dogs and cats have frozen to death in a cold car.
- Make sure your pet has cozy, draft-free winter sleeping quarters. If your dog has her own crate, make sure her winter bed inside it is one that will keep her warm. Kitty should have a snug sleeping spot as well, with warm bedding she can curl up in.
- Give your frail or older pet some extra TLC. Cold winter temperatures can be especially hard on a senior pet or a dog or kitty with degenerative joint disease or another chronic, debilitating condition. Talk with your integrative or holistic vet about physical therapy treatments and other safe, natural methods for improving your pet’s comfort and mobility during cold weather.